When American Idol contestant Kellie Pickler began her way to a sixth place finish during the show’s fifth season in 2006, her Southern sweetness — and occasionally comical remarks — quickly helped make her a fan favorite. But there was also an undercurrent of drama and sadness to the young singer, which imbued her songs with refreshing emotion and sometimes disarming intensity.
Born in Albemarle, North Carolina, Pickler’s father was in and out of jail frequently during her childhood. Pickler’s mother alleged that her husband had been abusive to her, which led her to abandon Kellie at two years old, leaving her to be raised by her grandparents. When Pickler’s debut album, Small Town Girl, was released in October 2006, it contained “I Wonder,” a song she co-wrote with Chris Lindsey, Aimee Mayo and Karyn Rochelle. The heart-wrenching tune, which addresses the singer’s feelings about her non-existent relationship with her mother, was released as the second single from Small Town Girl.
At the 2007 CMA Awards, where she was nominated for the Horizon (Best New Artist) award, Pickler, in a stunning low-cut red gown, remained remarkably composed throughout most of the song, even as she sang the lyrics, “Did you think I didn’t need you here, to hold my hand, to dry my tears.” However, by the time she sings, “Forgiveness is such a simple word, but it’s so hard to do when you’ve been hurt,” the then-21-year-old can no longer keep her feelings hidden. As the audience cheers her through the final chorus, Pickler lets a flood of memories — and perhaps even a sense of some of the healing she would experience through her success to come — wash over her. It’s an unguarded, unscripted moment that beautifully illustrates the power music has to reach a deeper, more personal place.